As classroom projectors and presentation systems continue to evolve, the difference in performance from one system to another is becoming less pronounced.

It used to be the rule that liquid crystal display (LCD) projectors were the choice if you wanted better lighting and clearer pictures, while digital light processing (DLP) projectors were the smarter choice for digital video, said Don Fasick, product manager for visual systems at NEC Technologies Inc. Now, however, there is little difference between the two types of systems.

The trend toward improved image quality means that, in terms of comparing one product to another, the focus now falls on which amenities and features are most important to the buyer. While needs will vary from classroom to classroom, any projector that produces 1,500 or more lumens will provide enough light for the typical classroom, Fasick said. The real question for schools, he said, is whether the projector makes a good use of space and is easy to use.

With these guidelines in mind, here are our editors’ top picks for new projectors and presentation tools that combine high-quality images with the easy operation teachers demand today:

Canon LV-X1 and LV-7345 digital projectors

Through August 31, Canon USA Inc. is running a special promotion for schools: Upon the purchase of one of these two new digital projectors from the company, educators also will receive a free Canon Powershot A10 digital camera, a $195 value.

The Canon LV-X1 is a six-pound portable projector for use in the classroom or on the road, featuring XGA-quality (1024 x 768) resolution and 1,100 lumens for a bright, detailed image. Teachers will find amenities such as a wireless remote and a graphic user interface helpful in running their presentations. The projector automatically detects video add-on components and adjusts for picture clarity. To cut down on background noise, the projector includes a feature for fan speed control.

Canon’s “Turbo Bright” LV-7345 is more powerful than the LV-X1. This eight-pound projector can produce 2,100 lumens. Power zoom and focus and digital keystone correction let you automatically adjust the image. Other features include compatibility with Macintosh and PC workstations, including UNIX operating systems, and a wireless remote control with mouse operating functions.

The special education price for the Canon LV-X1 is $2,162 and for the LV-7345 is $3,500. Go to the Canon web site to find the closest dealer near you, or contact the company directly with questions.

(800) OK-CANON

http://www.canonprojectors.com

Dell 3100MP digital projector

From Dell Computer comes a new 3.5-pound, microportable projector, the 3100MP, that combines portability, brightness, and ease of use in a single unit at an attractive price.

The 3100MP produces 1,050 lumens and comes with a QuickTime plug-and-play feature, a six-step guide to operation, and a remote control with integrated laser pointer. It can be mounted on a classroom ceiling or operated from the top of a desk. Other features include an adjustable zoom lens, rear or front projection options, and keystone correction for automatic image adjustments.

The 3100MP features native XGA resolution, which scales automatically up to UXGA. Standard operation requires only two key hookups, and large, easy-to-read buttons make operation simple. The 3100MP is listed at $2,500, which includes a two-year limited warranty.

(800) 999-3355

http://www.dell.com

InFocus ProjectorNet remote monitoring software

InFocus Corp. has released a new software program, called ProjectorNet, that enables users to manage their entire fleet of InFocus projectors remotely over an internet protocol (IP) network, saving time and reducing total cost of ownership over the long haul.

ProjectorNet allows you to troubleshoot and control any of the company’s installed projectors from a single location. Using the software, you can remotely change the presentation source from a laptop to a DVD player, for example, or shut down a projector that is not in use. You can also schedule projectors to shut down automatically at the end of the day or during holidays.

The software also helps you keep projectors functioning. You can set it up to send notification via eMail directly to a service provider when a bulb or filter needs changing. If a projector is disconnected from the network, the software sends an alert message to the appropriate administrator. A “command broadcast” feature lets you command a single projector at a time or a small group; for example, all projectors on the first floor can be turned off without affecting other projectors in a building.

ProjectorNet is available at a one-time fee for five seats, 20 seats, 50 seats, or as a site license for $999, $2,800, $6,000, and $8,000, respectively. It comes with a 90-day warranty on media and free phone support for two years.

(800) 294-6400

http://www.infocus.com

NEC RT50X compact rear projection system

NEC Technologies’ RT50X compact rear projection system is pricier than the other systems we’ve spotlighted, but it combines a projection unit and a large-screen display into a single, self-contained, fully portable system that can be transported anywhere in the school with the proper computer hookups already intact and ready to run.

The first compact rear projection unit to offer applications for video and data at just 18 inches deep—and the only self-contained unit for these applications with a 50-inch display—the RT50X gives teachers the ability to project images and data where space is limited and lighting conditions are less than ideal, according to the company. At 103 pounds, it can be mounted on a wall or ceiling or transported from class to class on a cart.

The system’s LCD-based rear screen technology prevents images from burning onto the lens during extended displays of motionless or static images, ensuring that image quality will not degrade over time. The RT50X costs $9,995, but through an agreement with the SMARTer Kids Foundation, schools are eligible for grants of up to 39 percent of the cost (see page 31 for more information).

(877) 632-3348

http://www.nectech.com

PLUS Vision V-1080 ultraportable projector

If portability is important to you, you can’t get much more compact than PLUS Vision Corp. of America’s new ultraportable projector, the V-1080. About half the size of a typical magazine cover, the V-1080 only weighs about two pounds and produces XGA-quality images at 800 lumens.

A four-way digital keystone adjusts the projection vertically and horizontally—a useful feature if the projector sits at an angle. Also available with the V-1080 is a picture-in-picture feature, which allows the projector to display two images at once.

The system includes a built-in digital DVI interface and DVI adapter. An extensive, on-screen menu offers several options for how to display presentations, and an Auto-Detect feature automatically adjusts the projector to any video inputs.

The V-1080 is priced at $3,195 and can be purchased through PLUS Vision directly.

(800) 211-9001

http://www.plus-america.com

SMART Technologies Camfire camera system

Erasing work from a dry-erase whiteboard used to mean deleting the information forever. Now, a new whiteboard camera system from SMART Technologies Inc. allows teachers to capture these images and save them for use later.

The SMART Camfire system includes a camera boom and a control unit. The camera boom incorporates two 3.4-megapixel digital cameras and easily installs above a 4-foot by 8-foot whiteboard. Mounted beside the whiteboard, the control unit features a back-lit LCD, printer port, network connection, and USB port so teachers can save directly to a USB memory device.

Teachers can save a digitally enhanced image of anything written, drawn, or posted on the whiteboard by pressing a single button on the control unit. To record notes from multiple whiteboards, users may connect up to four camera booms to a single control unit.

The system’s software automatically merges the images from the two high-resolution digital cameras and transforms them into a JPEG computer file. The software normalizes color, corrects keystoning, and creates high-quality images of the whiteboard’s contents, according to the company.

SMART Camfire DCi, which includes the camera boom and control unit, costs $2,999. Camfire PC, which includes a camera boom and SMART Notebook software for saving notes to a standard classroom PC, costs $1,599.

(888) 427-6278

http://www.smarttech.com